“But I just noticed:  you don’t have an engineering degree…”

This is one of the most disheartening conversations I have had in my job search.  Here I was, about a month away from unemployment, and it was beginning to look like a permanent condition.

I wasn’t hiding my degree from anyone.  If you go to my online profiles or my website, it’s pretty clear I have a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In this case, the art is Editorial Journalism—newspaper writing.  But it had been over 17 years since I earned that degree. In the years since, I worked as a nuclear weapons officer, a space operator, a missile defense contractor, and a space systems advisor.  None of these jobs had required any sort of newspaper writing from me.

Regarding the disheartening conversation–I hadn’t applied for any jobs with this particular company.  The company, one currently pushing frontiers in space launch platforms, was certainly interesting.  I was excited because of the company’s mission and the fact the recruiter had reached out to me.  He made it sound like the company really wanted someone like me to work with them.  And why wouldn’t they? I am an experienced space operations professional who has pushed boundaries with demonstrated knowledge of space operations using different command and control and space systems. All completed before my first cup of coffee!

The conversation with the recruiter started out well.  But then the recruiter asked questions that made it seem as if he hadn’t bothered to read past my name.  “Have you worked in launch operations?”  My answer:  “Um, no.”  There were a few other questions reflecting the same sort of lack of preparedness.

And then the killer:  “But I just noticed:  you don’t have an engineering degree.”  I just stopped.  What kind of person was I talking to on the other end of the line?  This person had my resume and had reached out to me to talk about the “possibility” (translated in my mind to “very likely possibility”) about working for his company.  He had everything he had needed to know about me before he even contacted me.  And yet, this recruiter was surprised by my lack of an engineering degree.  “I’m sorry,” he continued, “but the hiring managers won’t even consider you without an engineering degree.”

After the recruiter’s disclosure of the degree requirement, things ended fairly quickly.  I know they could use someone like me.  But the treatment by the recruiter and lack of homework done by him about me made me wonder if I wanted to work there.

I don’t regret earning my journalism degree.  The degree never made me less competitive in a technical field (current circumstances notwithstanding).  It was tremendously exciting to be approached, unsolicited, by a major industry player.  But, the communications weren’t clear, the initial expectations never set, and it was a waste of both my time and the recruiter’s.


Once approached by a recruiter, it doesn’t hurt make sure everyone’s on the same playing field—to communicate effectively and clearly.  Rude surprises await those who don’t, especially when working with a recruiter who’s blindly contacting potential hires via social media.

If you’re in a similar position – you have the right experience but don’t have one of the seemingly common prerequisites (degree, military experience, etc.) – do everything you can to prove your case on your online profile and be prepared with a smart answer the next time a recruiter tries to peg you into a box based on one item.

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John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for Clearancejobs.com, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.